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Title:Governing the commercial internet: Multistakeholder influences on Clinton era governance of the global internet
Author(s):Grosse, Meghan
Director of Research:Valdivia, Angharad N
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Valdivia, Angharad N
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Schiler, Dan; Ciafone, Amanda; Nerone, John
Department / Program:Inst of Communications Rsch
Discipline:Communications and Media
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):internet governance
Clinton Administration
commercial internet
internet history
global internet
internet policy studies
Abstract:In this dissertation, I examine the policies developed during the presidency of Bill Clinton regarding internet governance, starting in 1992 and ending in 2000. Efforts to commercialize the internet began prior to the presidency of Bill Clinton, but the decisions made by that administration accelerated that process. Today, the commercial nature of the web feels like a given, but in the mid-1990s, the structure and coordination of this international, extraterritorial system were still meaningfully unresolved. Archival records at the Clinton Presidential Library indicate a strong U.S. preference for engagement with established capitalist states supporting a U.S.-centric, neoliberal approach to internet governance. The placement of internet governance issues under the purview of the Department of Commerce in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government focused attention on issues like trade, intellectual property, and taxation seemingly above democratic concerns like freedom of expression or the protection of individual privacy. Still, the U.S. had to manage these priorities within an international landscape that brought additional and sometimes conflicting perspectives to bear. These sorts of decisions represent a continuity with previous eras of media regulation, and the decisions made about internet governance at that time continue to influence policy and practice. I examine the ways in which the Clinton Administration engaged with interest groups attempting to assert influence over internet governance. In particular, I focus on the private industry representatives engaging with the administration, the technological experts who were some of the earliest users of internet technology and who had a deep understanding of the technical infrastructure issues being debated, and finally on the ways in which traditional state governments were engaging with the U.S. Government. The United States Government’s role in defining internet governance did not spring from a vacuum. The U.S. had long established itself in the history of computing, and specifically in the history of networked computing. This history positioned them to take leadership of internet governance. Academics and technical hobbyists in the U.S. were heavily involved in developing the standards that allowed for networked computing to take place, and many of these non-commercial users saw the internet through to its development as a mass medium. Still, this was a global network, and the commercial users of the internet benefitted from having access to this global audience. In 1998, the United States dominated the internet globally, with 70 percent of all websites coming from there, but it was outside of the U.S. where growth rates were the highest. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cited North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region as the places with the most electronic commerce activities and therefore the focus for inclusion in discussion around internet governance. I argue that the ways in which these interests were presented in U.S. policy on internet governance follow a neoliberal logic, prioritizing market concerns and asserting that the utopic visions of the internet were best achieved through a system that supported stable electronic commerce. In an effort to appear inclusive, we see an attention to multistakeholderism – an interest in including a variety of voices in the discussion, which goes beyond any multilateral or state-to-state policy making to include private interests as well. Though this discourse frames that attention to commercial interests as inclusive and even democratic, including commercial perspectives undercuts the ability for other governments and any form of non-commercial public interest groups to set policy while advancing corporations’ ability to do so. Regardless of how democratic, or at least inclusive, the discussion over internet governance appeared at times, the goal here is to remain focused on identifying the various interests, and by extension, the different values that were carried into the process of defining internet governance at the time when the internet was firmly established as a commercial network. At its best, multistakeholderism ensured that people with greater technical expertise were able to contribute to the conversation and that the new stakeholders who were to build up electronic commerce became familiar with the intricacies of the governance process. At its worst, multistakeholderism brought so many voices to the table that it was easier to forget that having that many voices did not actually indicate that all potential internet users’ interests were even considered. I examine that history here as a way to think critically about the issues of internet governance that persist to this day.
Issue Date:2019-09-12
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Meghan Grosse
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12

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